Innovation At The Start

Kao'd At The Start Wired 4 LeadershipI recently had the opportunity to spend a day and a half with innovator John Kao at the ASAE Great Ideas Conference to discuss the “Four Questions of Strategic Innovation”.  Kao, well-known for his extraordinary creative expertise also shares a deep abiding commitment to helping others leverage innovative solutions to address significant problems.  His diverse approach to teaching was unique, his approach to problem-solving inspiring and his clarity about the far and near-term value of innovation were enlightening.  Innovation at the start requires a big canvas.

In addition to being an extraordinary thinker and provocateur, Kao is also an accomplished jazz pianist.  I couldn’t help wonder how many other seminar leaders ask for a “Baby Grand” piano in their workshop sessions.  He took to the piano throughout our meeting.  Sometimes he played during the breaks—or more often—when he asked us to reflect on key initiatives or strategies related to our own innovation goals.  His mastery at the keyboard created an immediate change in the setting, reminding me of the wonderful quote “Innovation like jazz, sometimes occurs in the quiet spaces between the notes.”

There was a lot to learn and ponder in between the notes and throughout the sessions.  Everything from what exactly is innovation and what sort of road map takes you where you need and want to go as you seek your next success.  Staying power and understanding the unique position of your organization as an “innovation engine” were huge takeaways as was the emerging reality there is no one “playbook” or “recipe” that assures success.  Innovation it turns out is pretty organic in nature and the key leadership disciplines that allow you succeed in other venues, will probably help you succeed in innovation.

  • Be clear about the strengths and weaknesses of your team.
  • Know what processes or products you want to focus on.
  • Resolve the creative tensions.
  • Understand your organization’s risk thresholds.
  • Create an environment free of judgements and preconceptions.

Most importantly, get started now.  A sense of urgency it turns out—for so many things in life—is a huge motivating force and a critical variable in creating success for your organization, your team and your own leadership.

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